Guilty verdicts in landmark Nalchik trial expose horrors of Russian criminal justice system

The guilty verdicts and harsh sentences against 57 defendants accused of participating in an armed attack in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria in 2005 are a huge miscarriage of justice, said Amnesty International today. The defendants were detained for nine years in deplorable conditions with testimonies extracted under torture and admitted as evidence. Five of the defendants received life sentences and the others received sentences of between four and 23 years in prison. “This is a textbook case of criminal injustice, where the authorities manifestly refused to investigate allegations of torture, despite overwhelming evidence, and the defendants languished for nine years in pre-trial detention, all in violation of international law,” said Sergei Nikitin, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director. “This trial should never have been allowed to continue until the allegations of torture were fully and effectively investigated.” One of the defendants is former Guantanamo Bay detainee, Rasul Kudaev, who was released from the US detention centre in 2004 without charges and returned to Russia. He was arrested in his home on 23 October 2005 on suspicion of participating in the attack. According to his family, he was beaten up during his arrest.  He was one of the five who received a life sentence. There is clear evidence of his beating and ill-treatment, including photos of his bruised and disfigured face in the early period of his detention. Amnesty International has campaigned relentlessly for an investigation into his case, but the Russian authorities have chosen to ignore all the evidence.  During the trial, multiple testimonies confirming that he could not have been present during the attack were presented in court by his defence. Those who initially gave testimonies against him tried to retract them in court and complained that they were forced to make false statements. Kudaev’s lawyers have been subjected to harassment throughout the investigation and trial and several have been forced to abandon the case. One of them received text messages from an anonymous sender containing death threats and was badly injured in December 2011 in a suspicious car accident involving police. “Kudaev’s case is a stark illustration of the unfair trial that the defendants in this case have been subjected to. It exposes the deplorable state of the Russian criminal justice system and the impunity of law enforcement officials alleged to have committed severe human rights violations,” said Sergei Nikitin. Kudaev is reportedly suffering from severe heart and liver disorders. He also has difficulty walking because of a bullet in his spine after he was shot when he was detained in Afghanistan and suffers from hypertension which began during his detention in Guantanamo. “The authorities consistently ignored the need to provide adequate medical treatment to Kudaev and all other detainees who needed it. Amnesty International has repeatedly raised concerns about this to the authorities, but these have been ignored,” said Sergei Nikitin. “The Russian authorities have used every trick in the book to deny the defendants justice in this landmark case. They also appear to have delayed the verdict until the run up to Christmas to try and sweep it under the carpet. This case really exposes the horrors of the Russian criminal justice system which bucks Russian and international law,” said Sergei Nikitin.